Breakthrough diagnosis for drug resistant Tuberculosis which kills 1.5 million per year

“We are capable now of making a diagnosis of MDR-TB within hours,” Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO’s Stop TB department said. He used the acronym for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, an infection that cannot be cured with a standard course of antibiotics. The The DNA tests cost an avearge of $5 per test, and training is rather simple.

This is part of a wave of arriving or soon to arrive cheap and effective diagnostics and biomarker tests which help reduce the death rate from cancer and other diseases. There have been several advancements on better diagnosis tools including $10 USB stick testing labs on a chip.

TB affects the lungs and can be transmitted by an infected person in droplets through coughing, sneezing, singing and other activities. The disease infected 9.2 million people in 2006, turning it into the world’s second-most-fatal infectious disease after AIDS. So in recent days we have the announcement of major breakthroughs against the number 1 infectious disease AIDS (Zinc fingers for personal immune system boost to keep control of the Hiv virus levels) and now this test for the number 2 infectious disease MDR-TB.

The molecular test developed by Hain Lifescience and Innogenetics (INNX.BR) represented a big breakthrough in the fight against tuberculosis, a contagious respiratory ailment that kills 1.5 million people a year.

The new test can determine directly from a patient’s saliva whether the tuberculosis bacteria can be treated with the two main antibiotics, isoniazid and rifampicin, making it easier to prescribe the drug to cure the disease and prevent its spread.

Drug-resistant tuberculosis strains are particularly lethal for HIV/AIDS sufferers and those with weak immune systems. Errors in prescribing antibiotics can worsen drug resistance problems and lead to XDR-TB, an untreatable form that has emerged in 49 countries including the United States, France, Russia, South Africa, Brazil and Australia.

The Germany-based Hain Lifescience is also working on a test to diagnose XDR, which remains in an experimental stage, a WHO spokesman said.

Lesotho will be the first country to get the lab equipment and training to use the new diagnostics under a programme supported by the WHO’s partners UNITAID and the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, Raviglione told a news briefing.

The other countries due to receive support to use the new test in the next four years are: Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Georgia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Moldova, Myanmar, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

The WHO said this deployment, as well as efforts to make second-line antibiotics more affordable, should increase to 15 percent the proportion of patients with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis who are diagnosed and treated appropriately. At present, that rate is only 2 percent. So the 13% increase would mean about 195,000 lives saved each year. A global tuberculosis case finding and treatment program would cost in the range of $1 billion and is the 13th item on a cost benefit analysis by the Copenhagen consensus.

An expert panel of 8 economists, including 5 Nobel Laureates, ranked a list of the most promising solutions to ten of the most pressing challenges facing the world today in May 2008 in Copenhagen.

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